Celtic 0 Arsenal 2
Having not booked a summer holiday this year, I was somewhat perversely hoping we would draw Fiorentina- as the opportunity to spend a few days in sunshine enveloped Florence would have been most welcome. The folly of drawing Celtic to meet such expectations was elucidated upon leaving the plane on Tuesday morning to find a freezing cold rain that remained for the duration of our short trip. Our attempts at sight seeing early Tuesday afternoon were curtailed by the sweeping precipitation coupled with the complete lack of anything to do or see in the city of Glasgow. Due to unprecedented demands made on the city`s accommodation owing to the U2 concert, our hotel was that far away from the city centre that using the adjoining leisure centre was not even an option. So we had to settle for an afternoon sheltered in a pub, looking wistfully on at the rain through increasingly blurry eyes as the Birthday ales (£1.25 a pint) laid siege on our livers. We are often much more culturally heterogeneous on our European excursions, but circumstance had forced us into oik territory.
The anticipated and much warned congestion due to the twin events being held in the city never did materialise. Before and after the match the city centre seemed bereft of bodies, whilst transport to and fro the ground was embarrassingly simple. Despite the seemingly inalien surroundings for a European match, the red hot atmosphere we were promised was the real unique selling point of the fixture. As the legendary Amos Milburn once declared, "If you wanna here some boogie, I know the place." However, once again it appears media manipulation was at work, forging a false reputation for our hosts. Save for a raucous rendition of "You`ll Never Walk Alone" all of the jive was coming from the away support, who were as loud as I have heard them for some time. They were keen to let their hosts know too, with various mocking renditions of, "You only play four games" as well as "It`s so quiet, Celtic Park" and my personal favourite, "You should have gone to see U2." The London contingent were also in the mood to celebrate new heroes, with Arshavin`s name sung enthusiastically to the tune of 'Chase the Sun` by Planet Funk as well as the mischievous, "He`s five foot four, he`s five foot fooooooour, we`ve got Arshavin, so fuck Adebayor."
Celtic convinced me they would lose within about three minutes, in which time they exerted uber amounts of unnecessary energy a la Spurs a few years ago, charging around like steroid fuelled wilder beasts. The fact that they had effectively shot their load quicker than Boris Becker in a broom cupboard allowed the visitors to establish an early rhythm of pass and move as Celtic caught their breath. Arsenal continued their pleasing habit garnered at Goodison on Saturday of pressing their opponents high up the pitch, van Persie, Arshavin and Bendtner exposing Celtic`s centre halves discomfort with the pace they were being asked to play the ball. Fabregas pushed upon the heels of the front three with relish that ensured Celtic never managed to string three passes between them. Denilson and Song once again dovetailed beautifully, hunting Celtic`s midfielders together, Song pressing and snapping Mascherano style whilst Denilson stayed close by, always on hand to pick up any bots and pieces. A bit like Alonso you might say. Vermaelen and Gallas also continued this trend at the back, Vermaelen in particular showing a real nous for reading a pass, nipping in front of the striker and intercepting the ball before beginning another attack. The big difference I have witnessed in the first two games is that Arsenal seem to be forcing the issue and pressing the ball more than they did last season.
The Gunners quickly assumed control and Andrey Arshavin turned van Persie`s reverse pass into the net only to be denied by the offside flag. Celtic were looking to sit back and play on the break and the plan nearly came to fruition when Shaun Maloney raced down Celtic`s left and floated in a tantalising cross for Scott Brown, only for Thomas Vermaelen to come charging back and bustle him brutally off the ball and clear the danger. Arsenal continued to dominate possession whilst hounding the opposition on the few occasions they got the ball, but the Gunners had to be patient in front of a tenacious defence. They got their reward two minutes before half time after Caldwell`s unnecessary foul on Fabregas thirty yards from goal. van Persie teed up Cesc for the shot and his right foot effort cannoned serendipitously off the back of William Gallas, wrong footing Artur Boruc and diverting the ball neatly into the far corner. Lampardesque you might say and befitting of Cesc`s new role, which appeared to have been more of the Lampard/ Gerrard bent in this match. Celtic looked brow neaten and bereft of ideas as the game moved into a half time hiatus.
Within three minutes of the second half, Arsenal might well have put the tie beyond all doubt. Arshavin, pressing Celtic into surrendering possession high up the pitch, teed up van Persie and his low shot drifted just wide. Then it was van Persie who intercepted some sloppy passing at the back as the home side struggled to play at a pace to which they were unaccustomed, he freed Denilson on the edge of the box and the young Brazilian tucked onto his right foot and curled a sumptuous strike inches wide of Boruc`s upright. Celtic continued to show a lack of inspiration, aside from a McDonald cross which was expertly cut out by William Gallas, the few times they found themselves in dangerous positions, they were compromised by a hybrid of poor decision making and lack of communication. The visitors got their deserved second goal on 71 minutes, substitute Abou Diaby brilliantly shuffled past two challenges, before making a beeline for Celtic`s eighteen yard line, he cut a clever pass to his left for Gael Clichy and his cross was turned into his own net by the hapless Gary Caldwell with the industrious Bendtner lurking in the shadows. The goal knocked the limp breeze out of Celtic as both teams anticipated the final whistle. 2-0 is another impressive result though the poor quality of the opposition should be factored into my praise above for the way the team forced the issue. As I said on Sunday, we`ll find out more about this team when they go a goal down, but for now, there seems to be an air of defiance about us so far, we`re making teams play our way and have dictated two potentially difficult away ties through sheer force of will. Having earned the right to play in the opening twenty minutes of both games so far, our football has then been allowed to pour through to the forefront. Portsmouth at home should represent another victory, but complacency will see the howls of derision once again fill the marble halls corridors. Wenger also has an interesting conundrum as to whether he rotates a winning team in the next two games. It`s tempting to stay with the successful formula, but other options will have to be explored at some point for the greater good. After the match we were left to drown a few more jars in a surprisingly barren city centre before flying back to an England I have subsequently discovered has been bathed in glorious sunshine in my absence. Chase the Sun indeed.LD.
Team: 1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY (booked), 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON, 4.FABREGAS(c), 52.BENDTNER, 23.ARSHAVIN (2.Diaby `69), 11.v.PERSIE. unused; 16.Ramsey, 18.Silvestre, 19.Wilshere, 24.Mannone, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs.
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